Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Whether he actually was conducting a retirement tour or just saying goodbye to England, Frankie Dettori celebrated his final British Champions Day with two wins and a burst of emotion.
Meanwhile, Champions Day was just the tip of the iceberg in a nice weekend of global horse racing action. There also was high-quality action in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and across North America. Plus, there's news from Saudi Arabia.
But let's go back to ...
Champions Day was looking a little blah Saturday. And then, fittingly and just in the nick of time, along came Dettori and King of Steel to push things way over the emotional top.
Of course, it had to be Dettori getting King of Steel up in the closing strides to win the Group 1 QIPCO Champion Stakes. His year-long retirement tour has featured one dramatic win after another. And even if he really isn't retiring, it still was an emotional end to the day of Group 1 events.
The emotional Italian announced long ago this would be his final season of racing. Recently, he announced that, while it will be his final season in England, he is on his way to California, where he will continue riding. So who knows? The crowd at Ascot didn't care a fig, either way.
Dettori said he had trouble getting King of Steel going early as the Derby runner-up was stumbling along. "And then he got good," Dettori said, and got the colt by Via Sistina to win by 3/4 length.
"It was incredible," said the Italian-born, British-based jockey, ever one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. "Everyone was cheering for me. This was my last race, so they were all up for it.
"I wanted to finish at the top and I can't be more at the top than that. I'm very proud of my career and this year, it's been phenomenal. Can I go and have a beer now?
"I go to Santa Anita on Wednesday. I'll regroup, go to the States, and like I said, I'm moving there for good. ... I have no plans to come back to England."
We'll see about that.
For the record, King of Steel, a Kentucky-bred colt by Wootton Bassett, has been running admirably all year, but in the shadow of best competition.
He was second to Auguste Rodin in the Derby and fourth in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, won by the same rival. He was third in the King George in back of older rivals Huckum and Westover and won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot against fellow 3-year-olds.
King of Steel's victory came one race after France's Big Rock thoroughly thrashed top-shelf British runners in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 1 mile.
The 3-year-old Rock of Gibraltar colt led all the way and won by 6 lengths over another French visitor, Facteur Cheval. That pair left well in their wake the likes of Tahiyra (third), Nashwa (sixth) and the favorite, Paddington (ninth).
Big Rock finished second to arguably Europe's top 3-year-old, Ace Impact, in the French Derby, albeit 3 1/2 lengths adrift, then was second to Inspiral in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois and second to Sauterne in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.
King of Steel and Big Rock earned "Win and You're In" bids to the Breeders' Cup, but the question appeared to be not whether they will travel to California but whether they will remain in training at all.
Also on the Champions Day card, Trawlerman, with Dettori up, edged the favorite, Kyprios, by a neck at the end of 1 7/8 miles in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup.
Art Power pulled off a major upset in the Group 1 Sprint, defeating the favorite, Kinross, by a neck after a back-and-forth stretch duel.
And relatively unheralded Poptronic made virtually all to take the Group 1 Filly & Mare Stakes by a neck over Bluestocking with the favorite, Jackie Oh, third.
Much more on the global scene shortly but first, back to North America ...
Friday's Knickerbocker at Aqueduct came off the turf, losing its Grade III status, then lost all but two of its runners. All said and done, Pioneering Spirit dueled with Commandeer for a while, then said adios to that one and spurted clear to win by 15 3/4 lengths.
Pioneering Spirit, a 4-year-old American Pharoah gelding, ran 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track in 1:51.42. Make of it what you will.
Filly & Mare Turf
Romagna Mia blew by the leader, Transient, a furlong from home in Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes at Keeneland and went on to win by 3 lengths from that rival.
Loved Reiko rallied nicely from last, but fell a head short of catching Transient. Romagna Mia, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Mastercraftsman, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:29.87. John Velazquez had the mount for trainer Graham Motion.
Sunday's $125,000 Carle Place Stakes for 3-year-olds also came off the turf at Aqueduct and lost most of its field. Of the four left to run, it was Ninetyprcentmaddie rallying from last to win by a neck over Just Beat the Odds.
The odds-on favorite, Super Chow, faded to finish third and Sir Lancelot completed the order of finish.
Ninetyprcentmaddie, a Pennsylvania-bred Weigelia gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.18. Irad Ortiz Jr. had the mount for trainer Robert Reid Jr.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Vahva circled into the stretch chasing the odds-on favorite Alva Starr in Saturday's $350,000 Grade III Lexus Raven Run Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, slowly closed the gap and got by to win by 1/2 length.
It was another 12 1/2 lengths to the closest rival, Dazzling Blue.
Vahva, a Gun Runner filly trained by Cherie DeVaux, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.28 with John Velazquez in the irons. Vahva scored her second straight win and third from her last four starts.
DeVaux said Vahva is headed for Santa Anita, but not for the Breeders' Cup. "Right now, the goal is the La Brea," she said, referring to the $300,000 Grade I on Boxing Day.
Raise Cain outfinished the favorite, Dr. Venkman, to win Saturday's $250,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds at Keeneland by a head. Post Time came from last of six to finish third.
Raise Cain, a Violence colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.58. Luis Saez had the mount for trainer Ben Colebrook.
The colt, winner of the Grade III Gotham Stakes way back in March, was eighth in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Indiana Derby and fourth in both the West Virginia Derby and Oklahoma Derby.
"I think that was the icing on the cake for this year," Colebrook said. "He has had a long year and deserves a break."
Bentornato handled some bumping early in Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park, took the lead with ease and won by 2 3/4 lengths.
The Valiant Minister colt, trained by Jose D'Angelo, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.50. He also won the first leg of the series, which this year has been elongated. D'Angelo said Bentornato is geared up for the 1 1/16-miles In Reality Division on Dec. 2.
R Harper Rose rose to the occasion in Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes, kicking away from eight rivals in the stretch run to win by 4 lengths.
The Khozan filly, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., reported in 1:25.35 and, like Bentornato, remains eligible for a series sweep.
R Harper Rose is owned by Two Eight Racing, in turned owned by former MLB outfielder Jayson Werth, who seems to be enjoying his second sport.
"When you get a horse like this and she's a big favorite ... coming around the turn you never know what's going to happen, so this is quite an experience," he said.
Now, back over the oceans ...
Durezza, with a confident ride by Christophe Lemaire, swept to victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger at Kyoto Racecourse, finishing a three-way division of the Japanese Triple Crown.
Sol Oriens, winner of the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2,000 Guineas, was second. Tastiera, the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby winner, was third.
The victory was a major step forward for Durezza, a son of Duramente. He had won four straight races leading up to the Kikuka Sho, but all were at the allowance level, well below the Triple Crown level of competition.
And the victory came with apparent ease despite the stretch to 3,000 meters and Durezza's No. 17 draw.
He took the lead on his own initiative and blazed through the first 1,000 meters in just over 1 minute. Lemaire got him to relax through the middle furlongs, dropping back to third, before hitting the throttle again through the stretch.
"He made a flying start and was keen to go," Lemaire said. "So I decided to let him take the lead. He responded well between the third and last corner which made me confident that he was going to close strongly. When he accelerated in the stretch, I knew we were going to win.
"To see him beat such a strong field today over the 3,000-meter distance means we can look forward to him doing well among Grade 1 company over 2,000 and 2,400 meters, also," Lemaire said.
It was all O'Briens in Sunday's 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud for 2-year-olds on Sunday as the patriarch of the clan, Aidan O'Brien trains the winner and third-place finishers, Los Angeles and Illinois, and son Joseph Patrick O'Brien has the runner-up, Islandsinthestream.
Los Angeles is by Camelot; Islandsinthestream by Wootton Bassett; and Illinois by Galileo. Los Angeles now is 2-for-2 and defeated Illinois in their previous meeting.
The 1-mile, Group 1 Criterium International went to Sunway, as jockey Oisin Murphy got salve for his narrow loss a day earlier aboard Via Sistina in the Champions Cup at Ascot.
Sunway, a French-bred colt, got his second win from four starts. Alcantor, a New Bay colt racing for Baron Edouard De Rothschild, was second and O'Brien-trained Portland settled for third.
Without a Fight had quite a fight on his hands at the finish of Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup. When the dust cleared, though, the 6-year-old Teofilo gelding prevailed by a head over favorite West Wind Blows with Gold Trip another 2 lengths back in third.
Without a Fight, racing in the yellow with black dots of Sheik Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, got his third win from six starts since his arrival down under.
Winning rider Mark Zahra said he's reconsidering his earlier insistence the colt should go to the Cox Plate rather than the Melbourne Cup.
"The way he switched off this prep, in Brisbane I thought he won't run past 2,000 meters so I said send him to the Cox Plate," Zahra said. "He just came back so much more relaxed so you've got to have a crack" at the Melbourne Cup.
Sight Success just did nip an unlucky Lucky Sweynesse in the final jump of Sunday's Premier Bowl at Sha Tin Racecourse, a likely preview of the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December.
Lucky Sweynesse's jockey, Zac Purton, was forced by the unfolding shape of the race to move sooner than he might have preferred, opening the door for Sight Success' late heroics for jockey Brenton Avdulla.
Sight Success had been knocking on the door, including a second in the 2022 international sprint.
"He's a very consistent horse, very honest, always puts in a good run and he seems to be able to sustain a long preparation," winning trainer John Size said. "Last season, he ran very well in the international race, and I'm hoping he'll do the same again."
When the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia in 2019 announced the inaugural Saudi Cup, American trainer Bob Baffert said he was sure it would be a success, commenting, "If you put up $20 million, you'll get good horses in the starting gate."
It's been just so, with Baffert contributing his share. Still, the prize money and the international grading continue to grow.
The JCSA Sunday announced another $2 million bump to $37.35 million for the overall purse account for the 2024 Saudi Cup meeting, set for Feb. 23-24 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.
The Neom Turf Cup and the 1351 Turf Sprint have been upgraded to international Group 2 status and share in the largesse.
Also worthy of note on the global scene, the Saudi International Handicap, a race for Thoroughbreds from Part II and Part III racing jurisdictions, moves from the Friday to the Saturday of Saudi Cup.
The Jockey Club created the race with the express goal of leading in the promotion of racing from normally less-exposed nations. The move grants the race much better exposure.
Back in North America ...
Touch'n Ride got home in front of all rivals except Solo Album at the end of Saturday's $180,000 (Canadian) Ontario Derby but then was awarded the victory as Solo Album was set down to fifth for interference in the first turn.
Touch'n Ride, a Candy Ride gelding, was the favorite in the race and finished 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:48.93 with Sahin Civaci in the irons.
Perfect Crime took the lead a furlong out in Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Overskate Stakes for Ontario-breds and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Mason's Gamble.
The 5-year-old Old Forester gelding ran 7 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:30.08 for Kazushi Kimura.
Fashionably Fab stalked the pace in the companion Eternal Search Stakes for fillies and mares, then put a nose in front of pacesetting Breathing Fire right on the wire. The 3-year-old Silent Name filly was clocked in 1:30.67 with Patrick Husbands up.
Bye Bye Bobby stalked the pace in Saturday's $200,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap, took over the lead turning for home and won off by 1 3/4 lengths from Presidential. Truth Seeker was third.
Bye Bye Bobby, a Quality Road colt out of the Red Bullet mare Revel in the Win, got 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.44 with Tracy Hebert up for trainer Todd Fincher. He finished second in the Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar in August.
Octane stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Gil Campbell Memorial Handicap for Florida-breds, rallied to the lead in the three path and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Big and Classy.
Octane, a 4-year-old Brethern gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.18 with Edgard Zayas in the irons.